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Like Lists?

I like lists. Like Jhumpa Lahiri in The Namesake, right?

This afternoon, as I sipped a mango lassi (blend ice, plain yogurt and mango slices; add sugar to taste) I thought about how much ink has been spilled on the importance of first lines in a novel. There must be a list for that, I thought—and several appeared at a quick click.

From the haunting (Rebecca), to the stately (Anna Karenina), to the breezy (Howards End) to the detached (Jane Eyre), first lines “are more or less context free, whereas final lines carry the contextual burden of the entire novel and, for maximum effectiveness, often need several sentences to do their work." says Charlie Harris.

So where’s the list for last lines? American Book Review promises to publish a list of best last lines next year. Lance Olson, on his blog, observes that "last lines often carry what I think of as a sort of rhythmic burden, a sort of aural crescendo that depends on the lines just before them to establish the right rise and fall, or rise and rise and rise, or ironic brake or trap door."Endings are loaded, and contain the whole story in a few words.

Here are a few examples.

“The others listened with interest, their naked genitals staring dully, sadly, listlessly at the yellow sand. —Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.

"Tomorrow." Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things.

"He planned to call it 'The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger Delta.'" Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.

Of course, sometimes an ending loses the reader. Junichiro Tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters ends with an image--well, I don't want to go there.

For my own novel, I called on an image I had used as a symbol and refrain throughout. When a reader said, "I just finished the book, and I'm sitting here crying," I was at least as moved as she.

10 Comment count
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Thank you for this post

Cheryl, may we see the poet/pianist's dreaming/work space?

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It's right there,

Belle, in my 'Workspace' gallery.

Cheryl Snell www.shivasarms.blogspot.com

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Last lines

I have a couple favorite last lines.  All right, so they're last lines of characters, not novels, but the concept is the same. 

 Hamlet:  "The rest is silence."

Gaff, from Blade Runner:  "It's too bad she won't live.  But then again, who does?"

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they definitely work. Thanks, Michael!

Cheryl Snell www.shivasarms.blogspot.com

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Eric Segal *spoiler if you have not read Man, Woman and Child'

I know this is a bit mawkish, but I liked the last lines of Man, Woman and Child - when the father has to let go of his illegitimate son - 'Because he'll have never had a father. And I'd have never had a son.'

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Hello, Shankar--

I'm always confused by the difference between sentimentality and sentiment. One often fits right into the other, I think.

Cheryl Snell www.shivasarms.blogspot.com

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First Lines

Interesting list, I am also intrigued by last lines. I'll have to look into this. Sheila

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Hi Sheila...

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate it!

Cheryl Snell www.shivasarms.blogspot.com

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The Last Line

The last line is one of the areas that requires more thinking than even the beginning. It is an area you want to drop off without letting your reader drop off the memory easily. I guess I like lists too.

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Hello Segun,

It's a bit like the revelation in the final line of a poem, isn't it? Resonance is hard to come by!

Cheryl Snell www.shivasarms.blogspot.com